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The 167.7 million MWh of wind energy produced in the U.S. in 2013 reduced carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 126.8 million tons - the equivalent of reducing power sector emissions by more than 5% or taking 20 million cars off the road - according to a new white paper from the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).

The group published the paper, titled "The Clean Air Benefits of Wind Energy," in advance of upcoming U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards. The EPA is expected to release its first-ever proposed rule limiting CO2 pollution from existing power plants on June 2.

The good news, says AWEA, is that wind energy is already helping nearly every state make progress toward whatever reductions the EPA will require and is an affordable and reliable compliance option for further reductions.

“Wind energy is one of the biggest, fastest, cheapest ways states can comply with the forthcoming EPA rule limiting carbon pollution from existing power plants,” comments Tom Kiernan, CEO of AWEA. “And the best part is that many of these states and their utilities are already familiar with the affordable, reliable product that wind energy provides.

“While the details are still to come [regarding the EPA rules], we’re confident that wind energy can play an even bigger role in helping states generate carbon-free energy and drive local economic development in the process.”

Other key findings in the AWEA report include the following:

- The top 10 states by volume of carbon reductions from wind energy are Texas, Illinois, California, Colorado, Iowa, Missouri, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Wyoming.

- States achieving a reduction in carbon emissions of 10% or more (compared to a 2011 baseline) from wind energy alone include California, Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, Oregon, South Dakota, Vermont and Washington, with Oklahoma, Wisconsin and Wyoming coming in just under 10%.

- Wind energy also currently reduces sulfur dioxide emissions by nearly 347 million pounds per year and nitrous oxide emissions by 214 million pounds per year. AWEA says these pollutants acidify lakes and streams, contribute to smog, and negatively impact public health.  

- While other types of generation may need to ramp up or down to accommodate the variability of wind energy (and other far larger sources of variability on the power system like electricity demand and the sudden failure of large conventional generators), AWEA says two recent studies from different regions in the U.S. document that such cycling has virtually no net effect on the emissions reductions from wind energy, with wind producing 99.8% of the carbon emissions savings expected of a zero-emissions resource.

- More than a dozen utility and independent grid operator studies have found wind can reliably provide an even larger share of U.S. electricity needs, which will, in turn, produce even larger emissions reductions. For example, AWEA says a National Renewable Energy Laboratory study for the eastern U.S. found that obtaining 20% of electricity from wind energy would cut power sector carbon emissions by 25%, and 30% wind would reduce carbon emissions by 37%, relative to the baseline generation mix.

According to AWEA, these reductions in emissions from wind energy have come while the industry has improved technology and reduced costs by 43% in four years. The average hub height for a wind turbine is now just over 80 meters, allowing access to better, steadier wind speeds.

With this advancement, AWEA says both the U.S. Energy Information Administration and Lazard find that wind energy is one of the lowest-cost options for new electric generation. And utilities agree: In 2013, U.S. utilities signed 60 power purchase agreements for 8 GW of wind energy. Between 2011 and 2013, wind energy was the primary choice for new power in the wind-rich regions of the Pacific Northwest, Plains states and Midwest, providing over 60% of all new capacity.

“Wind energy is a proven generating resource that is available to help all states affordably and reliably achieve the carbon emission reductions to be proposed by the EPA soon,” concludes Kiernan.

The full AWEA report is available here.

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